Maybe I am sensitive because I happen to be a Jewish teenager (until the end of October), but has anyone else noticed the focus in the media in recent years on the mystical legend that is the Jewish American Princess, especially from Long Island? I’ll admit; I take it as a compliment when people are surprised that I come from such a place, but come on, are we all really that bad?
What happened to the good old days when the most prevalent stereotype in relation to the American Jew was the crazy yenta that was the Jewish mother? She was overbearing, nervous, hungry, and always ready to dole out her opinion and a sweater, no extra charge beyond a kiss and the reassurance of your whereabouts. These days, it’s the daddy’s credit card wielding, nose-job denying, designer label bearing teens that are the picture of the Jewish-American youth, and it makes me cringe.
Why the rant attempting to defend my cultural background’s honor now? There is E!’s newest special “Long Island Princesses Unleashed,” though not all are Jewish, one even delightfully calls her self a “pizza-bagel” (Half Italian/Half Jewish, naturally). Then there was the release of the online parody video of “Rachel and the Dragon,” Disney’s first ever Jewish American Princess who hails from Dix Hills, back in December.
Unlike most students who come from abroad to study in Jerusalem, Emily Henochowicz was initially unconcerned with politics and religion. She arrived this winter at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design as a student of animation. Her religion and Israeli-born father were peripheral factors in her decision to spend a semester studying in the City of Gold.
Henochowicz’s regional interests expanded during her semester abroad, as she became a passionate activist against Israeli policies in the West Bank. A little over two weeks ago, she was brutally injured by Israeli policemen while protesting at the Qalandiya checkpoint, just north of Jerusalem.
Recuperating back in the States, I had the opportunity to chat with Henochowicz about her artwork, activism and role as an Internet hero for those opposing Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. Continue reading →
During a mini-vacation to New Orleans this past weekend, I unexpectedly stumbled across a little piece of matzo in my jambalaya.
It’s easy to forget with so many Jews living on both coasts that Jews have strong communities in the South as well dating back to the 1700s. While the early immigrants to the region were traders and furriers, the majority—who came as part of the last big wave of Jews from Eastern Europe in the late 19th-early 20th century—made their mark in dry goods, opening so-called “Jew Stores” around the South. (For an excellent personal account of Jewish life in the South during this period, read Jew Store by Stella Suberman) While their Jewishness set them apart and restricted them from certain aspects of Southern life, it also helped them to successfully maneuver the thin line between the African-Americans and white communities. According to Susan Levitas, author of an essay about the Jews of Louisiana, there is a popular urban legend that exemplifies a more bizarre by-product of this phenomenon. In the course of her research for her article, many Jewish families told her “the story of a Jewish merchant [often said to be a distant relative] who was so accepted as part of the larger community, that he was asked to join the notoriously anti-Semitic Ku Klux Klan. The hero would politely decline the invitation, but he knew that he was selling white sheets to these same men who would use them as disguises.” Continue reading →
The recent flotilla fiasco has unleashed a torrent of articles about Jews, Israel, Zionism, and any semi-related topic. Buried beneath the information overload, it has been difficult to pinpoint articles that truly have something new to offer. But here are some that have stood out for me:
The first is an op-ed that appeared in Le Monde this week. Written by Gilles Bernheim, France’s Chief Rabbi, he explores what happens when disparate religious and ethnic groups must share the same land and figure out how to live peacefully side-by-side. While his focus is France, with little effort one can see echoes of advice for those mired in the Middle East conflict. Continue reading →
It’s easier to place blame and side with the appointed victims, easier to live in a black and white world where we stay within the lines. But what happens if there are no victims, only volunteers? How do you know where to stand when enemies don masks of goodness and terror shows up with a bouquet of roses?
It would be easy to point at Israel and say ‘How could you? What were you thinking? You are no better than the terrorists you’re trying to keep away!’ It would be easy to stick with my black and white set of rules and condemn from afar. And I would be in good company, backed by much of the world. But I would be wrong. Continue reading →
To me, the flotilla incident was no surprise. Since I’ve left the insular Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School for the similarly insular world of Bard, I’ve seen my fill of flotilla-types getting worked up. They angrily train people to go to Gaza and teach non-violent resistance. They sell inflammatory T-shirts. They raise money. Sometimes this money goes to good causes, like the Bard Palestinian Youth Initiative. Sometimes it doesn’t. They have good intentions to change terrible situations, but they are incredibly self-righteous and upset.
With good reason. I’ve noticed them, I’ve talked to them, I’ve become angry, exacerbated, and tried again. However, the mainstream Jewish community has not shown the same persistence with these not-so-delightful folks, and man, are they agitated. Continue reading →
Last Monday, the Israeli Navy stopped a so-called “Freedom Flotilla” from breaking the Gaza blockade in a deadly encounter. Four days later, I found myself on a nearly empty flight out of Ben Gurion International Airport headed for Istanbul. When I booked the flight in January, I had no reason to expect a major change in Israeli-Turkish relations. Five months later, six decades of regional partnership were resting on thin ice. Continue reading →
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The Jerusalem Post reported that a synagogue in Parur, a city in the southern state of Kerala, is currently undergoing a “massive restoration.” The effort is funded principally by the government of local South-Indian state called Kerala, with some help from the national Indian government in Delhi. Dr. Venu V. Ias, the Kerala district government’s secretary of tourism, told the Post that, “The restoration work of the Parur synagogue symbolizes the eagerness of Kerala’s people to celebrate their multi-religious heritage.”
It would be wonderful to note that the Indian government was taking an interest in the Jews, if in fact there were Jews in Kerala to take an interest in. Sadly, however, the vibrant community of around 3,000 Jews in southern India that existed a century ago has largely disappeared, as all but about 35 have emigrated to Israel, according to the Post. All that is left of this Jewish anomaly are a handful of empty synagogues and locations with names like “Jew town” or “Jew Street.” It seems, then, that what the Indian government is really taking an interest in is not the local Jewish community, but foreign Jewish tourism.
Last week, The Desert Sun, the local newspaper of Palm Springs, CA, ran an article about teenagers from La Quinta High School playing a game they called, “Beat the Jew.” It involved one set of kids (the Nazis) in cars chasing another kid (the Jew) on foot down the street. The article had no interviews with the participants themselves, so I couldn’t get any sense of who they were, what their motivations were, their understanding of the Holocaust or how they came to invent the game in the first place.
However, the official response from the school district was surprisingly blasé. The school district superintendent, Sharon McGehee, was quoted as saying, “there was no threat; there was no crime. They just played a game that had an ugly, insensitive stupid game.” Moreover, McGehee and the policemen interviewed for the article seemed more concerned about the criminal implications of this game (none were found) then the more existential ones. Continue reading →